China is reacting to the unrest in the Middle East with its most brutal crackdown on dissidents in decades. Chinese authorities have rounded up more than 50 lawyers, activists, and intellectuals in recent weeks. This weekend, they made their most prominent arrest yet — that of Ai Weiwei, a renowned artist and activist who helped design the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing. He has not been heard from since Monday. "Things are very strict right now," said political analyst Jin Zhong, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "It is the most serious it has been since 1989." Could the situation get worse?
If Weiwei is a target, anyone could be: This crackdown was already "the harshest in at least a decade," says Austin Ramzy at TIME. "But Ai's detention takes it to a new extreme." With the exception of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, Weiwei is "China's most prominent dissident." His fame had, for so long, been a shield against this kind of detention. "By holding him, the Chinese authorities are reminding the nation that no challenger to the rule of the Communist Party should feel safe."
"Not another day in the life of Ai Weiwei"
China has taken a step backwards: Far from respecting the rule of law, says The Economist, China now "dismisses the idea that one function of the law is to defend people against the arbitrary exercise of state power." It has denied foreign journalists the use of the law as a shield, and is increasingly resorting to "information detentions, punishments, and disappearances which are completely outside the law." Anyone who thought progress was possible in China did not count on its "vindictive rulers."
"A spear not a shield"
The 'Big Chill' could burn China: Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, China is a "rare creature: a high-functioning dictatorship," says Evan Osnos in The New Yorker. No dissident has been able to overcome the ability of the authorities to terrify people away from organized unrest. Still, the "real damage" of China's "Big Chill" could be to its international stature. "Names which have been heretofore unknown to the world will soon become cause célèbre" — and the world might sit up and take notice.
"China: The Big Chill"
The U.S. must register its disapproval: With this latest crackdown, says Kelley Currie at The Weekly Standard, China is devolving into "lawless thugocracy." And yet, the U.S. government is still intent on building ties with the country's leaders. We ought to cancel or postpone all diplomatic missions to China until we and our allies come up with a "coordinated strategic response to Beijing's descent into totalitarianism." We can't ignore it any longer.
"Worsening crackdown in China"